Punter improving every week, using mental toughness and fundamentals

TYLER ULSES Sports Reporter

Brady Hale, sophomore punter, may only be on the field a few times a game for the South Dakota State football team, but he makes those appearances count. 

Kicking the ball and avoiding getting hit can make the punter’s job seem easy, but Hale explains that this isn’t the case. There’s pressure from fans to pin the other team inside their own 20 yard line every time. 

“I understand it doesn’t take a lot physically to do what I do, so I try to make up for it by being mentally tough,” Hale said.

First-year assistant coach, Jake Dickert, works with the safeties and Hale on his fundamentals. 

“He has that [freshman] year under his belt to know how things work at the college level and he improves every week on his technique,” Dickert said. “Experience is really the best teacher and from what I’ve seen from arriving in the spring is that year helped him tremendously.” 

Dickert also noted that the ultimate goal is consistency. 

This year, the six-foot-three, 210 pound Hale is averaging almost 41 yards per punt, which is second in the conference, and pins the other team inside the 20-yard line on 30 percent of kicks.

Coming into fall camp as a freshman last year, Hale knew he was one of the only kickers on the team. It’s not unheard of for a team to start a true freshman at a special team position such as punter or kicker.  

The Missouri Valley Football Conference currently has three freshmen punters: Mark Schuler from Youngstown State, Zach Drake from Missouri State and Lane Reazin from Southern Illinois.

Hale came into this season with small improvements. His steps have become more compact to avoid potential blockers, and his fundamentals are more defined by focusing on how he holds the ball and following through. 

These small changes have set him apart from others in the conference.

Hale, a native of Yankton, won the 14-to-15 age group national Punt, Pass and Kick competition, which led to him trying out for kicker in high school. With the Bucks, he was an all-around talent playing punter, kicker, wide receiver and also defense.

“I didn’t really take kicking seriously until my junior year when I thought that I could go somewhere and do this in college,” Hale said.

Hale holds the record for longest punt (81 yards) and yards per punt (41.3) at Yankton High School. Last year, Hale finished eighth in the conference with an average of 36.7 yards per kick, according to Maxpreps.com. 

Redshirt freshman kicker Chase Vinatieri practices with Hale and enjoys his time hanging around his special team’s teammate. Vinatieri, or “Vinny” as he’s called by teammates, praises Hale for his work ethic.

“He’s his own guy. He comes in and pushes himself and the guys around him to get better,” Vinatieri said. “Sometimes if he kicks one a little short he comes back to the sidelines and we talk about what happened, laugh it off and go get it next time.”

When he thinks of making it to the NFL. Hale relishes the thought and understands how difficult it can be, so he does everything he can for the team he plays for now.

“Every time I step out on the field I try and do my job and have fun at the same time,” Hale said.